Disheartening Top 16 start for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Greece

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Nate Linhart drives the lane (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Nate Linhart drives the lane
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
With star forward Devin Smith out injured, Maccabi Tel Aviv was concerned that not only would it lose to Panathinaikos in Athens in its Euroleague Top 16 opener, but that it would do so in humbling fashion.
Maccabi chose not to risk Smith, who is suffering from an ankle sprain, but only ended up falling by seven points (83-76) on Tuesday, a result it may well have settled for prior to the contest. But coach Guy Goodes’s team nevertheless returned home bitterly disappointed on Wednesday, knowing it squandered a golden opportunity to get the second stage off to a flying start.
The yellow-and-blue led by as many as 14 points (32-18) in the second quarter and was still ahead by double-digits (64- 54) late in the third frame.
Brian Randle, Alex Tyus and surprise- starter Nate Linhart carried the team for the first three periods, but Maccabi didn’t have enough gas in the tank to clinch the win.
A Loukas Mavrokefalidis basket capped a 16-4 run which gave Panathinaikos its first lead of the night (70-68) midway through the final frame and Maccabi never led again, with Dimitris Diamantidis finally securing the victory for the hosts (80-75) with 15 seconds to play.
Randle finished the night with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Linhart had 18 points, including four three-pointers, in 27 minutes after scoring a total of 19 points throughout the entire regular season.
Tyus contributed 14 points and 11 boards. Esteban Batista led the way for Panathinaikos with 16 points.
“This is a very disappointing defeat because we played fantastically for three quarters,” said Goodes. “We played a very good tactical game, brought them to exactly where we wanted them, but messed up the little things and that cost us.”
Maccabi hosts Red Star Belgrade in its second Top 16 game next Thursday and Linhart knows the team can scarcely afford anything but a win against the Serbians.
“This was a painful defeat because the game was in our hands,” said Linhart, who was almost cut by Maccabi ahead of the Top 16. “There is still a long way to go in the Top 16 and we need to quickly recover and return to winning ways against Red Star.”